Reflections on change from a long-serving judge

Judge Patrick Grace — Family Court Judge

As a new judge in 1995 I found it a humbling experience to preside over a Family Court hearing and then make a decision that impacted on the lives involved.

To be a judge is both a privileged position and one that carries significant responsibility.

Over the 22 years I have been a judge, mostly in Wellington, there have been many changes, both as to extension of the Family Court’s jurisdiction and in the way workload is handled. Relationships between parties have become more diverse and complicated.

Image of Judge Grace.The Family Court hears cases across some 36 Acts of Parliament, including laws covering children, relationship property, estates, mental health, family violence and protection of the rights and property of the infirm.

Restrictions on eligibility to legal aid has meant there are now more self-represented litigants and this can add to the complexity of a case due to a loss of focus on relevant issues. Cases appear to be more complicated which has increased the time required for a hearing, and this leads to delays in getting other matters heard.

Many judicial initiatives have been introduced over the years to try and progress case work more quickly. Judges spend a lot more time doing work electronically, with a recent move to using audio visual technology. This means judges are now working out of the court environment more frequently, and thus have less interaction with litigants whose cases they are considering. Judicial camaraderie and friendship has played a very supportive role for me over my years as a judge and this has been invaluable.

“Over the 22 years I have been a judge there have been many changes … Relationships between parties have become more diverse and complicated”